While applications of chitosan are myriad, recently the organic carbohydrate polymer has been in high demand in wastewater treatment. Natural polyelectrols such as chitosan are being widely examined for their effectiveness as coagulates for water treatment across several African countries that do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. Chitosan is a nontoxic and biodegradable poly N-acetyl-glucosamine that is a natural polyelectrolyte. It is derived from chitin, a structural element present in the exoskeleton of crustaceans, and is known to be produced annually as much as cellulose. Rising application of chitosan for wastewater treatment, apart from its uses in the organic cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, is the primary factor bolstering the global chitosan market.
Recently, analysts from Transparency Market Research conducted a research study, according to which the chitosan industry will rise at an impressive 17.7% CAGR between 2014 and 2020. TMR reports the global market value of chitosan at US$1.35 billion in 2013. The market is expected to reach US$4.22 billion by the end of 2020.
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Effectiveness of Chitosan as a Coagulating Agent in Wastewater Treatment
Obtaining potable water from most raw water resources entails administering coagulation or flocculation agents to remove turbidity, which is present in the form of colloidal or suspended materials. This is one of the most effective processes of treating surface water by reducing turbidity, algae, bacteria, clay particles, and organic compounds. Using aluminum salts may appear as a viable option, but it leaves behind residuals in treated water.
Whilst iron salts are a cheaper option, importing chemicals from foreign lands can prove to be a costly affair for developing countries. Hence, in recent years, there has been a significant interest in developing natural coagulants such as chitosan. Using natural coagulants helps achieve considerable savings in sludge and chemical handling costs.
Research conducted to examine the market viability of chitosan clearly demonstrates its effectiveness as a coagulating agent for organic compounds. Hence, chitosan is increasingly used as an absorption medium for PCBs, dyes, and small concentrations of phenols present in industrial wastewater. It is also used as a chelating polymer for binding toxic heavy metals. Chitosan has proven to be more effective than alternative polymers such as activated charcoals, synthetic resins, and even chitin in the aforementioned applications.
Research Reveals Ubiquitous Uses of Chitosan
For years, scientists have been using natural sunscreen made from algae to develop a novel shield against sunrays to protect not only people, but also outdoor materials and textiles. Existing sunblock materials perform either by physically blocking ultraviolet rays or by absorbing them. Several synthetic and natural compounds are used to achieve this. However, most of these have only a limited efficiency, and pose risks to human and environment health. To address such issues, Susana Fernandes and Vincent Bulone from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden explored natural alternatives. The researchers combined algae’s natural sunscreen molecules with chitosan. The experiment showed that the material thus formed was biocompatible and absorbed ultraviolet A and B radiations better than pure algae.
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Furthermore, a recently conducted laboratory and animal study revealed that nanoparticles coated with chitosan and encapsulating a chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin can target and effectively exterminate cancer cells six times more effectively than doxorubicin uncoated with the oligosaccharides.
Such studies only reveal the multi-disciplinary attribute of chitosan, which is anticipated to positively impact its market expansion across the globe